Arik Air, Nigeria’s largest commercial carrier, has petitioned the National Assembly over the discrepancies in the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, which led it to discontinue its operations on the Abuja-London route last week.
The UK airport authorities had disallowed Arik Air landing for its flights from Abuja into Heathrow, saying a private company was responsible for selling such slots. The airline alleged that it paid £1.4m to a private company, due to discrepancies in the agreement.
But the BASA agreement between the two countries does not indicate that slots would be sold to airlines from both sides. To this end, Arik Air has petitioned the National Assembly, to quickly intervene in the matter, in order to resolve the problem which is already affecting Nigerian travelers. In 1958, both countries signed the BASA agreement to allow their carriers operate into each others airports unhindered. The agreement was well used by both parties, as defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) reciprocated most of the flight frequencies being flown by British Airways.
However, the sudden liquidation of NAL prevented Nigeria from further reciprocating, as BA continues operations into Lagos and Abuja airports. In 2008, Arik Air began its Nigeria-UK operations with Lagos coming first and then Abuja.
Johnson Arumemi-Ikhide, the airline’s chairman told a press conference in Lagos, that the BASA, signed between the two countries, was a one sided agreement, adding that it was only beneficial to British carriers.
He explained that it was the Federal Government that invited Arik Air to participate, adding that during the signing of the agreement years ago, by both governments, it was to assist carriers the to fly into each other’s airspace.
The chairman further explained that the airline was given seven slots from Lagos to London and another seven slots for Abuja to London, adding that the airline even went further to ask for seven weekly slots but that Arik Air was told that other carriers were interested in that . In all, he explained that Nigeria was to operate 21 slots into Britain, while Britain would do same in Nigeria.
He lamented that when it was time for them to fly from Abuja to London; the British government said that there were no slots and that at that point, the airline had no choice other than to rent landing slots from a private company, British Midland International (BMI) where it paid over £1.4 million between 2009 and 2010 during winter.
He said the airline paid an initial deposit of £600,000 while it paid £52,250,000 monthly to BMI and after the expiration of that, BMI increased it from £52,250,000 monthly to £90 million per month and that when the airline tried to negotiate the amount, the company refused to shift ground. “By the time I discussed with the secretary of the Transport Ministry about our ordeals, that w e are not supposed to get slots from a private organization, since it’s BASA, he said it was his duty to protect the British carrier and that Nigeria should protect us, I walked out of the place dejected. I came to Nigeria and reported to the Ministry.
“The British government did not tell Nigeria that another body will be responsible for the slot allocation, we have stopped our Abuja-London flights over this issue because we are losing, do we lay off the pilots, crew and workers? Nigeria has to be resolute and protect the integrity of this country.
“The UK is starting something dangerous that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) may also enforce, I think FAAN should reciprocate, since the UK government thinks it’s a private company that can sell slots, we’ve petitioned the National Assembly because it is affecting many Nigerians, we are supposed to have a BASA that is supposed to be workable”, Arumemi said.
The Arik Air boss added that the airline feels bad that the British Government can just wake up and change an agreement that was signed between two countries years back and at the same time begin to introduce clauses that were not in the original agreement.
He hinted that when he confronted the British Department of Transport (DOT), he was simply told that in as much as there is BASA between the two countries, the primary duty of the department is to protect the interest British carriers taking advantage of the agreement.
He said, “What they are simply telling us is that we should ask our government to protect the carriers from Nigeria. We in Arik feel bad because they do not have respect for our country”
He said that already, the airline has written to the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, who summoned the British High Commissioner to Nigeria to Abuja, to explain why BMI would decide to cancel an agreement without recourse to the other party in the agreement.
The Federal Ministry of Aviation during the week, took a swipe at UK’s government’s refusal to grant Arik Air landing slots at Heathrow from Abuja airport, describing the act as ‘inequitable treatment’. Oduah in a statement said; “We have observed with utter dismay the inequitable treatment meted out to Arik Air, in denying its fleet access into Heathrow Airport from Abuja. As a result, the airline has been compelled to discontinue its flight operations from Abuja to Heathrow which has impacted negatively on the passengers on this route.
“Finally, the minister wants to assure Nigerians that appropriate action is being taken in this regard to redress the situation’, she said.